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China Christian Daily
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[Interview] U.S. Life.Church Offers Streaming Service Platform to Reach Lives

[Interview] U.S. Life.Church Offers Streaming Service Platform to Reach Lives

Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of Life.Church, preached on Church Online Platform on April 19, 2020. Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of Life.Church, preached on Church Online Platform on April 19, 2020. (Screenshot)
ByGrace Zhi, Karen Luo April 20, 2020
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Editor's note: Since the COVID-19 outbreak in China in late January, many churches in China have turned to technology. Creative ways have been adopted, such as online worship services, prayer meetings, pastoral helplines, “iCloud choirs”, and video greetings, but there is no specific online platform just for the church.

Church Online Platform, the exclusive streaming platform founded by the U.S.-based Life. Church in 2006, has had up by 25,000 churches sign on during this pandemic. Some call Church Online Platform the "Noah's Ark" and even introduced the platform into China. 

Recently, China Christian Daily interviewed Ben Matthews, Director of Open Network for Life. Church, to share the platform's experiences with the Chinese church. The interview has been edited. 

China Christian Daily: When was Church Online Platform (ChOP) founded and what was the original intention? When congregations are not able to gather at churches, what is the significance of online platforms for churches? 

Ben Matthews: Life. Church started church online in 2006 as a way to expand the geographical reach of our church and share the gospel with people who may never come to one of our church buildings. In 2011, we created the Church Online Platform and provided it to other churches for free so that they could also share their church services with people around the world. The tool is specifically tailored to meet the needs of churches. It not only empowers them to stream their own messages of hope but also helps the church lead people to next steps and build community with features like live chat and one-on-one prayer.

China Christian Daily: How many churches and people have registered on ChOP, especially during the quarantine? What exciting feedback do you receive?

Ben MatthewsWe have seen over 25,000 churches sign up to use the platform during this pandemic, which is double the number of churches signed up previously. Countless churches have shared how helpful the tool has been to keep their congregation connected to one another throughout this time of isolation. One example is Vineyard Christian Church in Stanthorpe, Australia (you can read the story here).

Churches had to pivot very quickly, and many moved their church from meeting physically to completely digitally in just a matter of days. We’ve seen churches lean on the resources that we created to launch their church services on the platform. But most encouraging to us is seeing pastors serve pastors during this time—answering questions and providing tips to one another.

China Christian Daily: Since there is a large increase in visits, have you encountered any problems you have never encountered before? How do you solve them?

Ben Matthews: We faced some unique challenges with a big influx of use like this. Even though our platform was built to scale, the massive growth in churches and attenders tested every part of our product.

The second weekend in March, we saw attendance numbers quadruple, which overloaded aspects of our chat functionality, language translation service, and server connections in ways we hadn’t seen in the past. This disrupted a few key services. However, the foundation we had built for this kind of scale in the future allowed us to quickly identify and make improvements each week leading up to Easter weekend when we saw 100% functionality in the platform. We essentially compressed the technical work for scaling we would have done over the course of a few years into just a few weeks!

In addition to the technical challenges, we also faced unique challenges supporting several churches who were new to online ministry. Before the coronavirus, churches who signed up for our platform were making a choice to do online church, but now many churches are doing it out of necessity. We had to quickly adjust our onboarding, training, and support approach to meet the needs of thousands of pastors who didn’t know where to start with online ministry.  And, as mentioned above, through the past few weeks it has been amazing to see churches like Vineyard Christian sign up and begin running services that reach thousands of attenders in a matter of days.

Despite some of the challenges, we’ve seen record-breaking attendance on the platform each weekend with Easter Sunday being the biggest day in the Church Online Platform’s history. Our team has used every resource available to us, building a bigger support team, ramping up training, increasing server capacity, and onboarding additional engineers to help us scale up. We couldn’t have provided this tool without the help of numerous volunteers and the generosity from our church family in supporting the increase in costs needed to run the platform for thousands of new churches.

China Christian DailyThe most interesting thing about ChOP is the participant statistics function. In many churches in China, the statistics are collected through small groups and group leaders, which makes it easy to lose members. What feedback do you get? What are the main problems when they use ChOP and how do you offer help?

Ben Matthews: When churches use the Church Online Platform, they will be able to see the number of unique visitors. However, just like in a church building, churches will only receive personal information from those who choose to provide it. There are multiple ways for churches to engage attenders and help them take their next step, including opportunities to serve, give tithes and offerings, join a small group, let us know they decided to follow Christ, pray with someone, and more. We equip each church, where possible, with analytics on those interactions to help them make more informed ministry decisions as they prioritize their energy in moving their ministry goals forward.

China Christian DailyCan you recommend any course or material to equip church staff to use this Platform? Or what steps should they take to be prepared? Any key suggestions?

Ben MatthewsThe Church Online Platform is part of a larger ministry from Life. Church called Open Network. Through Open Network, we offer several more free resources and training to help churches use the tools available most efficiently. On our blog, we’ve shared a “Church Online Platform starter kit” that outlines the steps to getting started. We also set up Support to help answer any other questions a church may have.

China Christian DailyThe main channels for uploading videos in the Platform are Facebook and Youtube. But for China, do you know any other channels to upload videos?

Ben MatthewsFacebook isn’t a streaming provider for the platform, but many churches, including Life. Church, use Facebook as part of their online ministry approach. The platform works with a variety of streaming providers. While there any many other options, you can view a brief list of streaming providers here.

China Christian Daily: As some media people call ChOP the modern “Noah’s ark”, online church platforms are quite important during the pandemic. How do you regard this ministry? In the future when the pandemic ends and churches resume gathering, do you think online ministries will go on as they are at present? What role will they play then?

Ben MatthewsThat’s such a kind comparison! We didn’t know in advance that there would be a need for online ministry to this degree. We just knew, we felt God leading us to further develop this tool, and in His perfect timing, we were ready to meet the need when it came.

We believe in the power of online ministry to spread the gospel. It’s been a part of our Life. Church ministry for 14 years, and we will continue to leverage technology for the gospel into the future because it’s who we are as a church. We believe many other churches who are experiencing online church for the first time are also seeing the benefits and possibilities of online ministry. We expect many will continue online church to reach people whether they are homebound, geographically separated from their families, living in countries with religious persecution—or even if they’re just not comfortable walking into a church building for whatever reason. There are so many opportunities to impact lives through online ministry. We’ve seen God move through church online and know He will continue to do so for years to come.

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